TORONTO, Canada, October 24, 2008. In the hills of rural Tuscany, the graceful cypresses line the top of the ridge against the sunlight. As darkness falls, the last shadows to fade are those of the lacey umbrella pines.
The countryside, dotted with impeccably ploughed fields, fenced by a line of olive trees, and interspersed with the ubiquitous grape and tomato vines, is wrapped in a silence completely alien to those who normally inhabit the rackety 416.
It is Sept. 30, and it is a long way from the Canadian election, collapsing financial markets and Sarah Palin. BlackBerrys and cellphones work in the towns here, but not very well in the rolling terrain of the countryside.
Thus the return to home base, sometimes a comforting experience, this time is like an interplanetary blast through Pearson Airport, gridlock — and finally, the Canadian election, collapsing financial markets and Sarah Palin.
The three are not unconnected. In Canada, the winning Conservatives, with an enlarged minority, now find themselves with what they wished for. It won’t be easy. Governing for the foreseeable future will be dominated by a bumpy economic ride.
On the international front, Prime Minister Stephen Harper will have his hands full, too, as he and other leaders of the G-8 nations struggle to make financial decisions that will determine the difference between prosperity and poverty for a generation, with no precedents to guide them.
The crisis has brought the international community together in a way no terrorist act could have, and while there will be plenty of bickering and disagreement about what the solutions are, there is no disagreement that the major economies must act together.
Further, the G-8 Summit called by President George Bush for November will be expanded to include the so-called BRIC nations — Brazil, India and China — the rapidly growing second-tier economies that have been knocking on the G-8 door to no avail up until now. This crisis may be the impetus that at last brings them inside and secures them a much sought-after place at the table.
At their meeting, leaders of the giant economies must be mindful that small economies have suffered the most — some to the point of economic collapse, largely through no fault of their own. Their needs must be taken into account.
There is so much going on in markets of all kinds, and so much daily change: Roller coaster-sized currency movements, toboggan chute declines in commodity prices, that it is far too soon to reach any conclusions about what the international economy will look like a year from now.
But we do know it will be different. And we do know other international priorities and foreign policy objectives will have to fight for their place unless they can contribute to resolving financial issues.
Canada is in the position where its relationship with the U.S. will be more important than ever as we tackle these problems. Any statements favouring protectionism, from Barack Obama in particular, will have to be repudiated immediately and loudly.
Diplomatically, with the new administration and with Congress, Canada must be more aggressive than it has been since the Free Trade negotiations to protect and enhance our interests, particularly in the financial arena.
Which brings me to Sarah Palin.
Palin and Hillary Clinton (remember her?) are the Yin and Yang of American feminism. Their emergence at a time of financial turbulence is a metaphor for the divide between rural and urban America, and indeed Canada in the recent election.
The financial crisis was brought about by men and women who speculate in financial instruments that for most people are beyond definition: Credit swaps, sub-prime mortgages, derivatives, hedge funds.
TRIM THE HEDGE FUND
In the rural parts of North America, a hedge fund is a little something you put aside so next year you can landscape the front lawn.
In the face of what sophisticated financiers have brought us, a return to virtues most of us have forgotten: Thrift, pleasure in simple things, generosity, compassion and comprehensible government policy is what so-called rural people exemplify and long for.
Briefly, they thought Sarah Palin embodied these virtues. Sadly, they were wrong. But other politicians should take note.
Because while voters look for intelligence and experience, their clamour for these more old fashioned virtues is not going to go away.
Barbara Mcdougal, Guest Columnist, THE TORONTO SUN.